Becoming an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach at 50: Linda’s Story

With her kids growing up, after decades of practicing Massage Therapy and teaching Pilates, Linda felt she was ready for the next challenge. Having witnessed the power of nutrition and wellness on herself and her clients, she got certified to share that transformative knowledge.

Tell us a little about your background…
I grew up in Wilmette, Illinois. I have a sister, a brother, and seven stepsiblings. My parents were divorced when I was eight years old, and both remarried. My family now: I am married and have three children: twin boys who are 22 years old and college seniors (one at the University of Miami in Florida, the other at DePaul in Chicago), and a daughter who is 12 years old and in seventh grade at Lincoln Elementary in Chicago.  My husband, Richard, is a Chiropractic physician and Functional Medicine doctor.

With my family in Cancun

I also attended University of Miami and graduated in 1984 with a degree in Elementary and Early Childhood Education. I taught Learning Disabled children for three years in Coconut Grove, Florida. During my last year as a teacher, I attended Educating Hands Massage School and met my husband just after I sat for my Florida License exam. We moved to Chicago in 1994—since it’s where I grew up, it was like coming home for me. Together, Rich and I opened our own clinic, Arrandt Health Care, in the Lincoln Park community and ran it for 22 years. I also received my Pilates Certification in 2003 from Power Pilates in New York City, and teach Pilates part-time at Club Pilates in Lincoln Park.

A year and a half ago, Rich and I moved Arrandt Health Care over to the Balance Health and Wellness facility, located just up the street in the Lincoln Park area of Chicago. The Balance philosophy is that through multi-disciplinary care, the team approach and services help clients to return to a state of balance, relieving their discomfort, restoring their functionality, and helping them sustain wellbeing in body and mind. Joining forces with Balance has been great. Balance has everything under one roof and offers so many more services than we were able to have on our own, including Chiropractic, Naturopathy, Physical Therapy, Acupuncture, Biofeedback, Neuro-feedback, Pilates, Massage, and Integrative Nutrition Health Coaching. I love the environment and am able to utilize my multiple skillsets there.

 

When did you start to think about making a change?
I started to think about making a professional change when my boys were in high school and more self-sufficient, and my daughter was equally occupied between school and nine hours of gymnastics a week. This allowed me the time to furthering myself professionally. I have been a practicing Massage Therapist and Pilates instructor for 25 and 14 years respectively. My husband and I partner to help our patients heal their symptoms, pain, and inflammation. The majority of our patients were getting therapy along with changing their diets and seeing direct results. Since I was counseling people for lifestyle change during sessions, becoming a health coach seemed like a great fit for me.

We noticed that once we had addressed and resolved underlying problems—through improved nutrition, manual therapy, supplementation, and lifestyle changes—patients noticed the removal or lessening of longstanding pain, along with weight loss. We watched how the patients who followed through with dietary and lifestyle changes not only lost weight, but healed through better nutrition. Those patients did not need as much manual therapy or manipulation. As a Massage Therapist, I even felt patients’ muscle tissue loosen and change over time right under my hands through good nutrition. It’s really not a mystery.

The culmination of the “aha” moment was when I saw and felt my own personal change in health and weight loss following an Intestinal Permeability Program—also known as a Leaky Gut program—and a year later I did a five-week Candida program. These programs helped heal my joint pain, skin irritations, brain fog, hormonal problems, thyroid issues, excess bloat and weight issues, among others.

What is your next act?
I began my new career direction almost five years ago on the beach at my sister’s house on the Jersey Shore. I signed up for school at The Institute for Integrative Nutrition (IIN) in New York City on my 50th birthday. I went back to school to become an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach and received my certification a year later.

I am extremely passionate about helping people and feel blessed to have been led to this career. I also received certification through an additional Health Coach training program through the Dr. Sears Wellness Institute and am certified to teach their life stage programs—Family Health, Pregnancy, and Prime Time Health for adults and seniors.

I fully believe that health care reform needs to begin in our own kitchens. I can attest to this from watching patients and clients make appropriate changes as well as see it in my own personal transformation and that of my family. My son did our 5-Week Candida program as a sophomore in high school, lost 35 pounds, cleared up his skin as well as knee and joint pain. His testimony can be found on my website.

I can also see and feel the transformation through food, lifestyle change, functional-movement and from a tissue/muscular perspective under my hands as a therapist. I think the majority of our food should be prepared at home, so we know what goes into it. I think it’s important for people to get tested for food sensitivities so they can learn what they need to remove from their diet to feel their best. It’s not all about weight loss. While working with clients and patients, my husband and I often put them on modified elimination diets. When people begin to add foods back, they can feel the effects directly when focusing on one food at a time.

Shopping at a farmers’ market

The majority of my clients are women, over forty, dealing with hormonal imbalances and battling excess weight. They are stressed out, tired, overweight, and want to have more energy. Most clients come to me with a laundry list of symptoms that they have tried to heal for years. Many clients already exercise regularly and already eat pretty well. They have gone from doctor to doctor and diet to diet to try to lose weight and heal their pain and symptoms. They are smart, educated, and have read and tried many different dietary programs.

I do not have a cookie cutter approach with clients. We begin by discussing their health history with a discovery session. It is an organic, highly individualized process. I have found that clients who commit to a three- to six-month program get the best results. Changing long-standing habits takes time. There are several success stories posted on my website as well as some videos. I do work with men and teens as well, but they do not make up the majority of my practice. I also work with clients by phone or Skype. Many clients actually prefer working this way even though they live locally, as they don’t have to commute to my office, and we can still keep to regular scheduled calls while they (or I) are traveling.

Last year I took a The Roll Model / Yoga Tune Up course. I use this method to teach clients to do self-massage and I absolutely love the work. I use it with my Pilates clients and my husband uses it with patients as well. I use the balls for my own regular self-care and find that they work great when I use them with regularity (as with any tool, if it sits in the corner, what’s it worth?). This training complements the other work I do, as self-care is the foundation of the most important aspects of the health coaching work I do. Here’s a video of me demonstrating this method.

Working with a Pilates client

You also work with groups?
Yes. While I really enjoy working with private clients, I feel that there is a large need for group programs. Having support from a community of like-minded individuals is an important aspect in getting healthy—so you don’t feel so alone. This community model was important for me when I lost weight in the ‘80s. There is comfort in knowing that there are others going through the very same thing as you.

I launched an online group program called, “Eight Weeks to A Healthier You.” It allows people to go at their own pace. They can listen to the live call or on their own time frame. I have made the price affordable for people at $289 for an 8-week group class, whether locally or online. I believe that having group accountability and support is key. This is why my clients and husband’s patients who do our detox programs are so successful.

My 8-Week program is not a detox, but a lifestyle program. My private clients get the very same material within their 3- or 6-month program and pay me $1150-$2400. However, with one-to-one coaching, we get to dig deeper. We work on underlying issues, both mentally and in the gut, that stop people from changing and moving forward. This process goes way beyond counting calories and tracking exercise to move clients beyond a long-held mindset that has kept them stuck in old patterns.

Again, my 3- and 6-month program looks different for each person as it unfolds during the time we work together. Also, I only accept two to three new qualifying clients per month as I spend a lot of my time and focus on the people who are committed in time and finances and believe in the process. I am generally a warm and friendly person, but I am also a tough coach who gets results. 

Preparing lunch in Mexico

 

Why did you choose this next act?
I have a background as an Elementary School Teacher and have always had a love of teaching, so educating people on simple, small steps to get healthier is a great fit for me. I chose this path because both my husband and I live this as a lifestyle. Might I add, not perfectly either. I am not the Yogi who has arrived on the mountaintop. I struggle with the same issues as many of my clients. I do indulge and give into cravings at times.

In my past I was forty pounds overweight and it was painful to live in that body. I lacked confidence and felt self-conscious and fat. I did a weight loss success story in New Body Magazine in the mid ‘80s and at the time I created a community of support to help me reach my goals. When I look back at that time, I felt so proud of myself and loved the new body I worked so hard to get. I thought that I would be a great coach to help others with my own experience.

For me today, I choose to do a detox program with each changing season. By detoxing my body, I find it helps me clean out my intestines and liver, get off of sugar cravings and to feel great in my body. After my seasonal detoxes, my muscles and joints feel great, my energy soars, and my clothing fits so much better. I wanted to share the excitement of feeling great in your body with other people. My goal is to help people lose weight, lose pain, feel vibrant, energetic, and wildly alive.

Me at 155 lbs.

 

How hard was it to take the plunge?
It was easy for me; I had a lot of support. The coursework was all online and amounted to 6-10 hours a week of work. I felt ready to use my brain and learn. I knew a few friends who had used Health Coaches or had a friend who was a coach, so I got some names and numbers of the ones who went to the Institute for Integrative Nutrition (IIN), the school that I was considering signing up for and would end up attending. It seemed like a good fit for me when I spoke to some graduates. I also spoke at length to the enrollment office about what to expect. My husband was supportive, so I signed up to begin when the kids returned to school that fall.

Hiking with my husband Rich in Arizona

 

What challenges did you encounter?
The juggle of having three kids in three schools was a challenge. My twin boys, Jake and Zack were in their junior year in two different high schools and my daughter, Sydney was in second grade. Running a household, along with work, and now school, was a challenge, but I was so excited to hear the next lecture for the program that I would listen while cooking, folding clothing, or traveling in the car using my iPad. When a lecture was really important, I would watch again when time allowed and then sit to take notes. I found I was able to keep up with the workload required as it was online and I could go at my own pace.

My kids

 

Were there times when you thought about giving up?
I can’t say that I wanted to give up, but I just wanted more time to be able to focus on the path. I thought about stopping and re-enrolling when my mom became ill, but kept it up and graduated on time. Luckily, we were able to hire a caregiver for my mom and she recovered and got her independence back. I was proud of myself for finishing on time.

I began my private practice while I was still in school. I was lucky to work along with my husband and be able to work with many of the patients in our practice.

My passion to help others overcome health and weight challenges was my real driving force to keep going. Also, I felt a strong desire to help my own family with the knowledge I was gaining. When I began working with clients during school, the work felt so natural and rewarding. It felt amazing to see the magic that happens for people when they start to implement changes, feel better, get more energy, and lose weight. I believe that this work is my life’s calling.

Talking to a client

 

Have your kids embraced your and your husband’s lifestyle as well?
Yes and no! My kids have a great understanding of how nutrition affects their body and brain. My daughter probably eats the most like my husband and me. All of the kids clean up their diet when their immune system is off. They eliminate, sugar, dairy, and wheat until they are better. The boys eat a pretty typical college diet, but they know the benefits of good nutrition and clean up their diet when they have to function their best for school, such as during finals. They do not eat gluten free in general—although Zack has said that he’d do the program again when he comes home this summer, with my support. My daughter is very mindful of what she eats before important tests and her gymnastics meets.

 

What did you learn about yourself through this process?
I learned how capable I am and how it is okay not to do it all or do it perfectly. Some things have to give, like a clean house or a workout. I learned that my intuition when I work one on one with a client is much better than a scripted program. I also learned that I have valuable wisdom and knowledge that really works to help people with goals and lifestyle changes. I see the proof firsthand watching clients transform.

Client success story

 

Looking back, is there anything you’d have done differently?
I don’t think I’d do much differently, as I was led to this work through everything in my past and everything that I have learned about my own body throughout the years. In my past, being 40 pounds heavier than I am today was painful.  After the weight loss success story, in the mid to late ‘80s, I moved to the city and gained all of the weight I lost back, and then some. I didn’t lose the weight overnight; I lost the weight in increments over time. I kept resetting my body weight through harsh amounts of exercise and watching my calories through a lowfat diet.

Now, I have kept the weight off through personal lifestyle change and eating the right fats in my diet. I no longer burn out my adrenals through crazy amounts of exercise. I eat a varied diet consisting of lean organic protein, a wide array of colorful vegetables and fruit and small amounts of carbohydrates such as brown rice and rice cakes. I also eat plenty of good fats, such as olives, olive and avocado oil, avocado, macadamia nuts, etc.

What I’ve learned about the body as a Massage therapist and Pilates Instructor has helped me become a better health coach. I’ve learned so much from my clients/patients in practicing with my husband.

At work with my husband

 

How do you collaborate with your husband and the other practitioners at Balance?
My husband and I have worked together on patient care for years. He helps people figure out the puzzle of their chronic conditions through his practice of Functional Medicine. He may order blood, saliva, or stool testing. Once he has the data, we work together with supplementation and I work with patients on lifestyle and emotional awareness to help implement change.

The best part of working at Balance Health and Wellness for my husband and I is the philosophy of multidisciplinary care under one roof. The practitioners coordinate patient care based on individual patient need. For many of our patients, it is a one-stop shop.

Last week, one of my clients received an adjustment, saw me for care, and had acupuncture. She walked out feeling on top of the world. I have also worked along with the Physical Therapist and have seen healing through the corrective exercises, dietary changes, and massage.

I saw the coordination of care work first hand as my daughter was ready to quit gymnastics with a back and knee injury. Through getting adjusted, having regular physical therapy sessions, massage, and a change in diet, she healed. The one thing that may not have been thought about was the timing of the injury. It happened right around Halloween. What kind of diet do most kids have that during that time period? They eat a lot of excess sugar and junk food. She was so inflamed by the excess sugar that it landed in her muscles and joints. She is a testament to success of the group approach as she did not quit her sport due to pain, persevered, and did the regular exercises, took supplements, improved her eating, especially good fats, and in turn has been steadily improving throughout each of her competitions.

Giving a health talk

 

What advice do you have for women seeking reinvention in midlife?
Go for it! Take the time to invest in yourself and find your passion. It’s much easier to wake up in the morning and be excited about your day. For me, I find a great satisfaction in helping people go from wishing and dreaming about making changes in their health and weight to actually accomplishing and sustaining it, once and for all!

 

What advice do you have for those interested in becoming Integrative Health Coaches?
I loved both of the schools that I attended and both of them gave me very different skills that I implement in my practice. My advice is to go online to learn about each school and decide which curriculum is the best fit for you. Also, seek out other coaches who did the programs and get as much information that you can before making your final decision.

It is a rewarding career, however you will encounter clients who are gung ho at first, but can’t get out of their own way, no matter how hard you try to help them. The best way to find clients is, first and foremost, to walk the talk of what you teach. Align yourself with doctors and fitness centers, and do speaking engagements in the community.

It is important to figure out your target market. Make sure you work on your own health issues. It is easier to be of help to others through sharing your own health story. Once you sign up for school, the program will let you know when it is time to begin working with clients.

At first work for free, then begin to charge for your time. Look to other coaches as mentors, but develop your own style of coaching. Remember to set boundaries with clients and keep in mind that you are a business owner and not doing this as a hobby. Know that what you have to share is valuable and that you deserve to get paid for your knowledge.

 

What resources do you recommend?
I enjoyed both Health Coach training programs. I would recommend them both highly.

The Institute for Integrative Nutrition (IIN) was very different from The Dr. Sears Wellness Institute. I suppose it depends on the person. Dr. Sears is a science-based approach that teaches life stage programs in preparation for pregnancy and throughout the childbearing years, family health and primetime health. IIN teaches over 100 unique dietary theories and concepts that I am forever grateful to have learned and to be using to help my clients. I also thought about attending the Eating and Psychology Institute, and may in the future as I love learning and being a student. This school teaches more about the emotional aspects of food and why we eat.

I am a member of the American Association of Drugless Practitioners (AADP) and The International Association for Health Coaches. There are also programs that you can enroll in to further your education, where you can use credits from the IIN program toward a Bachelor or Master’s degree. One is through the Goddard College. I have a resource page on my website that can help you on your path.

 

What about resources on the business end?
I was lucky to find Victor Wykore of Kore Creatives International for web design. I found him when I came across one of the sites he designed for a college student who was a public speaker empowering kids. I really think he did a fantastic job on my site and we work really well together.

As far as branding, it has been a metamorphosis for me. I wasn’t sure whether to use my own name or not. I originally formed an LLC (limited liability corporation) and called it Partnering for Your Health. I secured the web domain, paid a designer to make a logo for me, and spent a lot of time and money on it. I chose this name because I partner with patients to change habits and I partner with my husband to help patients on their wellness path. But when I was discussing my future business development with my sister, she thought it sounded too clinical.

I have a passion for cooking simple, healthy soups and salads, and teach meal preparation methods, so together with my son Zack who did one of the programs successfully, we came up with Simple + Well. My next step was to get branded. I really liked the Balance Logo, so I hired the graphic artist that did their branding. I was lucky to have secured the time to work with her as she is not currently doing graphic design.

With my sister and makeup artist Bobbi Brown

 

What’s next for you?
I am currently working on growing my Health Coach practice and give lectures in the community, however I still get pretty nervous. I feel that I have a lot to share with people to help them heal and lose weight. I feel so inspired when I make a difference in their lives. I intend to do a public speaking course next year called “The Art of Public Speaking.” I am also considering going back to school to get a Master’s Degree in Nutrition, however I have not made a commitment at this time.

 

Connect with Linda Arrandt
Email: linda@simpleandwell.net
Website: www.simpleandwell.net
Facebook: Simple + Well
Twitter: @Healthcoach312
LinkedIn
Instagram: simpleandwell

 




Giving Former Inmates and Teen Mothers a Chance: Susan’s Story

Susan-Garcia-TrieschmannWhen her beloved brother-in-law, Curt, passed away too young, Susan reevaluated her life, got involved with restorative justice, and opened Curt’s Café, with the mission to help at-risk, underserved young adults coming out of the prison system. Three years later, she opened a second location to help teen mothers as well.

 

Tell us a little about your background…

I was born in Florida but our mom moved us to Deerfield, Illinois when my father drowned in a tragic scuba diving accident. I was seven years old, I had two sisters and two brothers, and Mom was pregnant with our youngest sister. When I was 25, I met a young man who came here from Peru and, since he had little family here, we brought him into our family. So we are a family of seven kids and an amazing mother.

Us as Kids

My mom with her first 5 kids

We were not wealthy so we all began working at a young age. I started waitressing when I was 13 at Exmoor Country Club in Highland Park. I quickly learned that I was better at working at a job than I was at fitting in or excelling at school—so I always gravitated to work.

During the gas shortage of 1973, I took at job at our local Mr. Adams Restaurant to avoid the high cost of gas. When I graduated high school, I moved to Florida to live with my two older sisters and there I worked the midnight to 7:00 am shift at Mr. Donuts, and then at the Lanai Restaurant in Sarasota. These different food service operations all taught me one thing: If you work hard and smart, you will move forward.

Educationally, I had struggled even getting through high school. I just wasn’t academic. So rather than going full time to college, I took courses in psychology, sociology, aikido, piano, guitar and finally went to secretarial school (yes, there was such a thing) and got a certificate in 1979, which I was happy with.

I finally moved back to Chicago and started to work for Lettuce Entertain You as a waitress at RJ Grunts in Glenview, finally moving to the Pump Room in Chicago as the Catering Director. It was a stretch because I had absolutely no skill set in Catering and they also had never catered, but we learned together.

When I was at the Pump Room, we kept getting calls to do catering outside of the Pump Room, at places like The Irish Embassy, at wedding showers, and such. Because Lettuce Entertain You did not do outside catering, I started a “pretend” catering company with a friend. We weren’t licensed, we didn’t have an LLC or anything formal, and we actually did our first catering event for The Irish Embassy—because we couldn’t afford uniforms, I sewed Kelly green bow ties and cummerbunds for us to wear! We then started to do other events for different organizations in Chicago. My dream of owning my own future started to grow.

Finally in 1983, when I was 25, my sister, Nancy Sharp, and her husband, Curt Sharp, joined me and we opened an S-Corp, Food For Thought Catering. We rented a space and were ready to show the world what catering really was about (or so we thought). We all worked at other jobs while we were growing the business; after three years, we finally had our footing and began to pay ourselves and rely on the business for our only income.

 

Easter Sunday 1995

Our family, Easter Sunday 1995

In 1986, I married my husband Tom, who was a Chef at a restaurant in Lake Forest called Sinclairs and he quickly joined Food For Thought as our corporate chef. Two years later, our son Trevor came along and in three years after that, Anna Mae was born. So I always say we birthed a company and two children in just 8 years! Nancy and Curt had two kids also and we all lived in a 2-flat together in South Evanston. We worked hard but played hard and had a wonderful life. We were fortunate enough to all move to North Evanston in 2000 (separate houses but only six blocks apart) and send our kids to Evanston Township High School. We are still in the same house but Trevor is in San Francisco finishing up his Masters Degree in Sustainable Peace through Sports Management and Anna Mae is in Boston working at a non-profit focused on Social Innovation and Social Impact.

Food For Thought Beginnings[1]

Our family with Curt (in top right) — all working at Food For Thought

When Curt, my business partner and brother-in-law, was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2014, at the young age of 53, I found myself thinking too much, and I was always sad. Curt was the kind of guy everyone loved. He knew everyone in the room before he left and he genuinely cared about each and every one of them. When I researched what the name “Curt” meant it said “bold, courteous, polite and wise counselor” and that actually describes him perfectly!

I went down to Oakton Community College and signed up for the two classes available during lunch—it helped keep my mind off Curt’s illness and avoid the looks I got at work from coworkers who felt sorry for me—and I fell in love with learning as an adult.

 

When did you start to think about making a change in midlife?

When Curt died in 2014, I took time off work to figure out what my life, at age 46, was about. Watching someone process end-of-life issues makes you do some deep digging about what your life is worth. I had always wanted a college degree and I was already on that path, so I just continued to keep moving that goal forward – many days blindly just surviving the grief of Curt’s death. I ended up getting my Associates Degree at Oakton and then getting my Bachelor’s at DePaul University in Social Justice. I was 51 when I graduated from DePaul.

Some days, school was the only thing that helped me get through the grief because it’s hard to learn and take tests when you haven’t been in school for 30 years. When I decided to go for my BA, I transferred to DePaul and took a class, by accident actually, that changed my life—but at the time I didn’t know how it was going to change my life. The class, Restorative Justice, opened me up to the injustices going on in our society involving underserved youth. Although we were poor growing up, we had a tremendous amount of love and support. I realized that was missing from many young people’s lives and I started to feel the injustices around me. I had no intention of moving that knowledge to action; I was going to donate or volunteer but not change my life around it.

But one day, I sat in a peace circle and heard a story from three young men who were going to be jailed for a childhood decision and I started writing a business plan to try to help them. Eight months later, I was sitting in a gutted café telling the workmen how to build out a restaurant and trying to find volunteers to help me open Curt’s Café—a concept I made up in my living room—with a business plan that made little sense to a businesswoman like myself. The P&L (Profit and Loss) was in the red and the mission had not been tried or proven. But I never questioned it. I just moved forward like I had in so many other things in my life and didn’t really think of it as a life-changing move. Just something needed to be done and I thought I could do it.

Cafe Picture Amanda

 

What is your next act?

CurtsCafe_logo_webI am the founder of Curt’s Café, which I opened in 2012, at the age of 54, in Evanston, Illinois; it’s a working café that trains at-risk, underserved, young adults, primarily those coming out of prison or with high judicial contact. In April of 2015, we opened our second café, also in Evanston, to serve teen mothers and at-risk underserved girls with the same mission. We are actually PS It’s Social, doing business as Curt’s Café, a non-profit 501©3 organization—designed to grow and expand into other areas that could use our programming.

We have had about 150 students come through the program and most keep coming back for further needs, mentoring, hugs, and love so we are busy. That and serving coffee and scones to the public makes for a full life. I designed our program after meeting with youths and understanding what their needs were and what they wanted in order to move their lives forward. We address what they want by giving them a purpose-driven workforce program. They train in job skills for six hours a day while running a coffee shop/café, which is supported by community members and neighbors.

Photo - Students Feb 2014

We address their individual needs by having a full time social worker on staff and also by giving them support on intellectual and life skills for two hours every day. We have tutors come in to help them get their GED or High School Diplomas; we have mentors in all the time; we teach anger management, financial literacy, and relationship building.

Our goals are two-fold. For our young men (we work only with young adults 15 to 24 years old), our first goal is to keep them from returning to prison, our second goal is to help them get jobs, and then we help them keep those jobs by making sure they are in secure housing, have transportation, and are getting the social services they require. For our young women (same ages, but primarily teen mothers) we work to get them jobs and to help them secure daycare, safe housing, and support services as they navigate raising children, when many of them are children themselves.

Girls at Curts

Girls at Curt’s, including my daughter

To date (almost four years), we only have two young men who have returned to prison, which is a 2% recidivism rate. The national statistic for young men is 86% recidivism rate after just three years of their release. To put it another way, we have a 98% success rate, as opposed to the national average 14% success rate. We also have 80% of our students in jobs and over 50% have received their GED or High School Diplomas. Our young women’s program has only been open for one year and the ladies from our first two cohorts are still in their jobs. The ladies that trained in the summer all returned to high school and are still coming to the café on weekends to work or just visit.

Curt’s Café is run now by amazing volunteers and ten great staff so I don’ t feel comfortable taking credit for our students’ success because it does take an army. But we have all enjoyed watching so many successful students move on, get their first apartments and first cars, find a special partner, come to the café to tell us first that they are expecting a child, inviting us to their high school graduations or calling many of us on Mother’s Day. We have seen our young men move out of gangs, even if it was a dangerous thing to do. We have seen our young women move out of abuse relationships, even if it meant living in a shelter with their children. We have seen our students rally together to support one another, and all of us staff, when one of our students was shot and killed, and they always hug us when we get stressed and tell us everything is going to be okay. Apathy is what they come to the café with because their lives have been so difficult and sympathy and love is what they leave with. I am touched by every one of their stories and I am humbled by their strength and perseverance—once they start to believe they are worth the effort!

Elena, Chris, Devante

 

Why did you choose this next act?  

I honestly didn’t choose this act. It chose me. As hokey as that sounds it is the truth. I had no skill set in working with ex-offender youth or teen mothers. I had no prior interest, excluding one class when I was 18—and I had taken that class because they went on fun field trips! I had raised two of my own children and helped raise my niece and nephew (Curt and Nancy’s kids) and I thought that was plenty. I was not affected by youth violence; I did not have anyone I loved arrested or incarcerated; I did not know people who were greatly affected by injustice.

I simply had an idea that could help. I saw that no one else was doing specifically what the kids were asking for, so I did what they asked me for and built a workforce program around the industry that I knew and loved. I moved one foot in front of the other without taking time to really think about spending my days with 18-year-old boys coming out of prison or 15-year-old mothers of two. I was moved to do what I do. I listened to my heart and moved in the direction it took me. And I have never ever been happier.

The only other option I considered was opening another type of business. I am very entrepreneurial and I don’t love working for other people. But it could have been a moving company, another restaurant, or a clothing store. I never thought about a nonprofit because I like making money and I have never understood how nonprofits work and didn’t have a deep desire to learn.

South - Mary Kay[1]

With new lipstick!

 

How hard was it to take the plunge? How did you prepare?

Taking the plunge was not easy but I moved fast and didn’t allow myself to get discouraged. My husband and I took a home equity loan against our house (not a good idea, I know) and secured a place to open the café. I determined how much I could spend to build out the space to make it into a café and, with the remaining money, hoped to pay the rent for a few months until I could get grants.

I spoke with many people who thought it was a great idea, but when it came to writing the grants and getting money, none of them came through with funding. The reason I was told most often was that my idea wasn’t proven and they couldn’t give money to my good intentions. Of course, I understood that but it was painful. I ended up taking money out on credit cards, hoping a few people coming into the café and seeing the students improving every day would leave a donation, and I asked friends and family to help. The first two years were not pretty!

I met a woman, Lori Dube, before I opened and she believed in what I wanted to do and she has been a huge supporter to the café from day one. She was an angel in an apron because she helped recruit her friends for funding, she made scones, she cleaned tables, and her husband even helped with our legal struggles. Without her help and belief in me and my crazy idea, I don’t know how I would have done it.

After two years of a proven track record, we have been able to secure grants and larger donations but it is still a huge struggle. The young women’s program gets more funding because who doesn’t want to help a teenage mother who is struggling? But we started with the boys’ program, and funding young men coming out of prison is not quite as intriguing.

Our first Board of Directors helped me to build the café/job training part of the program because I knew that could bring in at least 50% of the money needed to run the program. Basically I hoped the sales at the café would cover general operating and half the staff; this has turned out to be true. But we continue to fundraise for stipends for the students, the social workers, the overhead for students needs, our management staff, and a small portion of general operating expenses. Our evolving Board of Directors is charged more with funding and support for services required by our youths.

John DeRosier and Me

With John DeRosier, a chef, friend, and volunteer

 

How supportive were your family and friends?

Our kids had gone to college by then and from a distance they thought it was cool. They didn’t understand why I was doing it but they were 100% supportive. My husband was rock solid behind me. He never questioned what I thought I could do; he supported me financially and allowed me to make very generous loans to the organization to get it started. He didn’t question me working 18-hour days for two years, not taking vacations with him, or not helping around the house. I am still only about 30% back on a normal track but he is patient and understanding.

My family has always been supportive and, although they questioned me more than my husband, they all helped paint, hang pictures, cook, design, whatever I needed. They continue to have my back all the time in every way. I am lucky because I have six brothers and sisters and all of us have been in the restaurant business for long periods of time. Until last year, we all lived within 15 miles of the café. Now one of my brothers lives in San Francisco, but that’s okay because our son is there and they have had dinner together most Sundays—keeping up our family tradition of Sunday dinners and hanging out together.

All the Grandkids

All the grandkids

My sister Nancy bought my shares of stock at Food For Thought, which helped me tremendously my first three years at the Café. She supplies all the food for our fundraisers and takes our students on tours of the catering kitchens whenever we have a graduating class. Her kids, Adam and Rosie, helped paint the new café on Thanksgiving break and both donate to the café. Amazing young people, if I say so myself!

Our Mom, Betty, was diagnosed with cancer the day after I opened the first Café. She fought the disease for a year and for most of that time you could find her sitting on the couch at the Café chatting up people and telling them about the program. She was so proud of me but, more importantly, I believe she was happy to see that I had found my passion, one that would make me soar and that would change my life in a positive way forever. We lost our Mom in 2013 and the day one of our graduate students found out, he came right to the café to see if he could take me out for pizza because he knew I was sad. This from a kid who was making $8.25 an hour and had a child to support!

Mom and Me

With my mom

I have been fortunate to have won awards like the “Key to the City of Evanston” and was a runner up for Loréal Paris “Woman of Worth”—I received a trip to New York where I was on the stage with the Loréal spokespeople and many celebrities. Although I missed our mom, I knew she was there, smiling and so, so proud. The fact my daughter nominated me allowed me to fully embrace the experience and walk proudly. Even though I didn’t win the biggest prize awarded, I felt I had!

My friends were very supportive and all wished they could have helped but most of my friends are doing similar work and have no time. I have made the most amazing friends since I opened the café—friends I will have for a lifetime. People like Lori Dube who believed in what I wanted to do when I might have questioned it. Who came in at five in the morning and left at ten at night and said, “Wow, this is amazing.” The best friend a girl could ask for.

Lori Dube with Djorgy

Lori Dube with Djorgy

 

What challenges did you encounter?

The hardest part for me was when people would come into the café the first six months and say “you are so brave to do this,” or “you are living your dream, I am so envious,” or “you are so smart to be able to do this,” and so on. That was hard because it made me think, “what the hell have I just done!” Up to that point, honestly, I moved with my heart and my calculated business plan, but not fully with my head. I also still don’t believe I did anything that special so it was very embarrassing and difficult for me to navigate that public image.

I have learned to accept the compliments gracefully but I still do not feel as if I’ve done something great. I see the students we work with doing ten times more work every day than I do and they take many more risks than I ever could. They have to walk past dangerous gang neighborhoods; they also have to try things that they have been told they would fail at because most of them have had verbally abusive parents, teachers, “loved ones,” who told them they wouldn’t amount to anything. The students also risk failure—one more time—and that is the hardest risk of all. You can only get knocked down so many times (homelessness, abuse, failed schooling, jail) until you decide to just stay down there.

Crew at Curts June 2013

Financially, I encountered many challenges. I have run out of money often because asking for money, writing grants, etc. is not a skill set I have. I am actually terrible at it. I continue to struggle with this but I knew enough, as a businesswoman, to surround myself with people who shored up my weaknesses. I have just hired a part time Director of Development with the hopes that we can grow our program and, more importantly, ensure that we always have funding for our existing program.

Then there was the physical challenge. I am no longer a young woman and working 18 hours on my feet is hard! I don’t ever feel it during the day but I get home and question what I was thinking. Who, at almost 60 years old, works 80 hours a week, physically and emotionally always on the high shelf of insanity, and then wonders why she is tired? The body and mind have different ideas and the body seems to be whining a lot of the time.

curtsCafe_coffee_dessert

I was able to jump right in and identify the needs of the students from day one because our son always had a living room full of friends at the house. He was a kid who didn’t see color, economic differences, or the importance of hanging out in just one group or clique. So our house was filled with every kind of kid possible. They were always hungry and I was often home from work when they got home and fixed platters of food—which made me their best friend fast! I also was raised not to judge, and I think the students see that in me right away.

I do struggle with compartmentalizing the stories I hear. I still keep my phone on all night, on my nightstand; I have answered many calls late at night from kids who need blankets or bus cards, kids who just want to talk, and kids who are scared or lonely. When we were able to hire full time social workers, I noticed I got fewer calls but I am very much a mother figure to many of the students—and one of the kids just said I reminded him of his grandmother. I had to scold him for that but then realized I was actually older than his grandmother!

Mr. Bradford[1]

Mr. Bradford, killed 1/19/16 from a gunshot to the head — we are still devastated

Staffing is always a challenge in the restaurant business and Curt’s Café is no different, and I’m still learning to navigate the differences between the way social workers think and work (“lets take a minute and talk about that”) and the way restaurant managers think and work (“do it fast, do it now, and do it my way so the customer is happy and comes back!”) but it’s getting easier. We are all doing the work for the same reason—to give the students a chance in life—so we have managed to navigate our way. My current desire is to get a benefit package funded for our staff so we can get and keep the same caliber of staff that for-profit organizations can attract.

 

Were there times when you thought about giving up?  

I never thought about giving up but I did question my sanity more than once. Lori Dube, my husband, family, and kids were all there to tell me I was on the right path and help me—even when I didn’t know I needed the help. Also, our students seem to rally when I am down and they keep me moving with hugs, successes, phone calls about their new jobs, or just calls to see how I am doing. It’s amazing.

 

Sandwich

 

 

What did you learn about yourself through this process?

I am stronger and smarter than I ever gave myself credit for. I need to learn how to ask for help. I am stubborn when I see someone is being taken advantage of. I will always advocate and speak up for those who have lost their voice because one day that person might be me.

 

Looking back, is there anything you’d have done differently?

Not one thing. If I would have learned more about the nonprofit industry or the young adults I chose to serve, I could have made it much easier for myself and others concerned, but I might have also decided not to do it! I realize now that I took a huge risk—and continue to actually—because I had no idea if the program would actually work. I still have a tremendous amount of money on the line (and I didn’t get paid for the first 3 1/2 years) but I believe in the work with all my heart, I believe in the students, and I know I’m smart enough to figure out how to make it sustainable. Opening a nonprofit with no nonprofit experience would not be considered a good business move but moving forward I feel I have the skills sets required to do the job better.

I had no money to fall back on and I had no plan on what to do if I ran out of money. The kids I choose to serve have been in prison sometimes for 5-10 years and if I had really thought about it maybe there was a reason very few are willing to put to much time or money into them.

Again, I moved with a full heart and a pretty good business plan. More planning and knowledge would have told me to run in the other direction and not look back! But the success our students have had (2% recidivism vs national average of 86% recidivism) proves that the kids are well worth every dollar we spend and every tired night I spend.

Tedx Talk

With other TedX Winnetka presenters

 

What advice do you have for women seeking reinvention in midlife?

Go with your heart and be brave. Find someone to take the journey with you if possible. It is so much more fun if you have someone else to run ideas by, enjoy a glass of wine with, or brainstorm next steps with. Someone who understands why you are doing what you are doing even more than you do. Someone who believes in you as much as you believe in yourself and someone who has strengths that you envy. But do it! Make the change, if you feel you should. Don’t be someone who “wishes they would.” Be proud that you tried. There are no failures in trying in my book. The only failure is listening to fear, not your heart!

I would encourage all the women reading this not to write a script for their lives in pen. Write in pencil so you can gracefully erase if you choose another path. It is so admirable, in my eyes anyway, when I hear about people who followed their heart and work harder than ever but share stories and belly laughs about what they do. “Genuinely happy” can’t be bought or pushed, it must be lived by being true to yourself.

 

What advice do you have for those interested in starting a nonprofit?

Meet with those of us who have taken the leap and learn from us so you are looking for the guideposts on your path. They aren’t always visible but they are important. They keep you out of the ditch and from skidding into the car in front of you. Make sure it is what you love by working with one of us doing this work. If it’s meant to be, an opportunity will present itself.

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What resources do you recommend?

I read Father Boyles’ Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion when I was at a low point and it motivated me to keep doing what I’m doing. He tells real stories. They spoke to me in a unique way.

I read all business books, not nonprofit books very often. I want to run our business like a real business so it’s up to us to keep it open, not a government funding agent or a grant funder. I read books like:

The Power of Unreasonable People: How Social Entrepreneurs Create Markets That Change the World by Elkington Hartigan

The Great Game of Business: The Only Sensible Way to Run a Company by Jack Stack

Small Giants: Companies That Choose to Be Great Instead of Big by Bo Burlingham

The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It by Michael Gerber

I also enjoy Success Magazine and subscribe to SmartBrief on leadership every day because it always has a link that pertains to what my business is going through.

I also read appropriate websites and books on judicial justice, such as:

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

United: Thoughts on Finding Common Ground and Advancing the Common Good by Cory Booker.

I have over 30 years in the food business but I still read all those magazines as well, like QSR (Quick Service Restaurant), Catering, and Tasting Panel.

For website development, I use Laura Fairman of Blue Canvas in Chicago. She was 100% on top of what I asked her for, she understood my vision and my business, and she continues to be at arm’s length when needed.

 

curtsCafe_4people

What’s next for you?

Because it is such a young organization, I am dedicated to making Curt’s Café successful and sustainable. We are on our way and work hard every day to get the kids jobs and to make sure we are here for them as they grow and mature. Our 2016-2017 goal is to open one or two other Cafés for kids in Chicago and North Chicago/Waukegan so that will keep me busy and focused.

I would like to visit other like-minded organizations in the United States and abroad to see how they are handling workforce development, recidivism, and youth needs (highly at-risk underserved youth). I think there is a wealth of information out there that I just have not had the time to tap into. Because restaurant people work on their feet, making phone calls would not be as beneficial as working next to someone for 3-4 days and then documenting best practices. Fellowship would be amazing to build an even stronger foundation to what we do.

susan_staff

 

Contact Susan Garcia Trieschmann at susan@curtscafe.org

Locations:

2922 Central St, Evanston IL

1813 Dempster St, Evanston IL

Website

Watch my Ted Talk

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Twitter: @Curts_Cafe




Blogging from Costa Rica: Deby’s Story

IMG_2342Deby and her husband fell in love with Costa Rica on a surf trip. When they retired there, Deby needed something to occupy her time; she started blogging about her adventures with cooking and baking in the jungle.

 

Tell us a little about your background…

Before our next act, my husband Chuck and I were responsible parents living in Los Angeles, California, raising two sons. I mention responsible because now we can be less responsible—and we are loving it.

I grew up in Norwalk, California with my parents and sister, one dog and a cat. We had a neighborhood full of kids running around, playing outside until the streetlights came on. It was the ‘50s. We walked everywhere around our little town and in the evenings, when it was time to come home for dinner, our mother would clap her hands and whistle and call my sister and me by name. She was a stay-at-home mom for the most part, but always involved in politics—that’s a whole different story. My father worked at a glass plant and then at Metal Toys for many years. Yes, my kids did get some very cool toys!

with Chuck high school

I met my husband in my senior year of high school. We went all through high school together and never knew each other until our senior year, in 1970. We both had gym class at the same time and we had to pass each other in the hall. I guess it was the eye contact. We were married in 1972 in the rose garden of the University of Southern California (USC). Hippy-ish? You bet. Chuck’s father worked at USC at the time and it seemed like a beautiful place to marry and have 300 of our friends and family with us. I know, crazy.

1974 wedding USC

Four years later, we started our family in Norwalk, California, down the street from Chuck’s grandmother Marie. This is the woman who taught me how to cook; we became very good friends. I would walk down to Marie’s house and she would be cooking something… Spaghetti sauce—I still make it her way today. Polenta with that wonderful sauce, all kinds of cookies, her Mac and Cheese, oh the bread. And sometimes it was just popcorn and we would sit and talk and eat popcorn. She was wonderful. Each time I cook, there is a bit of Marie in it—even when I crack an egg. She made the biggest impression in my life for the love of food.

Chuck and I stayed in that Norwalk house for 15 years, then moved to Redlands, California, and we still own that home. We have two sons, now almost 40 and 32. The oldest is an Art Director and the younger one is a Video Editor. We are very proud parents.

I was, for the most part, a stay at home Mom, but always on the go. As the kids got older, I needed something to do, so we started a Tree Farm and Nursery on our property and sold trees and plants. I would go and buy large trees and plants from wholesale nurseries and sell them at my nursery, Plant-It-Earth Farm. It was fun for about six years. Chuck worked full time as a Union Carpenter and on the week ends I would have him go to customer homes and deliver and plant large trees for them. One day, he said, “Deby, I am going surfing on the weekend” and I said, “I want to go too.” So we started to close the Nursery so we could go and have fun. We slowly sold off the trees and plants and I moved on to my next job. I went to college just long enough to to get the credits to work at a child care facility; it ended up being a Montessori school and I loved it.

family

Our family

 

When did you start to think about making a change?

Chuck and I took a surf trip to Costa Rica in 2005, when we were both 53. After landing in the capital, San Jose, with my sister and her husband, we drove first to the beach town of Tamarindo, and then a couple of hours farther south to Nosara. There we found surf, beautiful beaches, and great restaurants.

We were already starting to think about retirement. At the time, I was still working at the Montessori school and Chuck had been working for 30 years now. As he used to say, “I am beat up from the feet up.” It was a natural time in our lives to retire and make some more memories.

To live at the beach in California was very expensive, so we thought we could live close to the beach, without it costing a fortune, in Costa Rica. And we did just that. Today we live about a seven-minute walk to the ocean, a walk that takes us past beautiful green jungle. Nosara is a small town on Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast, surrounded by green hills and three beautiful beaches just outside of town. We have everything we need here. There’s a great market, hardware store, post office and small airport. We love our life in Nosara. it’s vibrant and healthy.

Chuck surfing

Chuck surfing

 

What is your next act?

In July 2015, I started my blog, Cooking in the Jungle, about the cooking and baking I do in the Costa Rica jungle, and our life in this beautiful place. I write about the things I bake or cook in my outside kitchen on the patio, or the rancho, as it’s called here. Chuck built me an outside kitchen with an oven, sink, and counter, and our dining table is out there too. I also write about the paths and potholes and my beautiful beach walk and, of course, collecting sea glass.

outdoor kitchen

I am always looking up new recipes online. Chuck always says, “now that’s an expensive recipe book Deby, please don’t get food on it.” He is talking about the computer. I find two or three recipes and sometimes combine them to fit my needs. I always give credit to the author of the recipe I use, if it’s not mine. Sometimes a recipe will just pop into my head and I have to find a way to make it, if I haven’t made it before. I have been making popsicles lately. It’s so hot here in the jungle, a refreshing popsicle comes in handy. Check out my recipes for Cantaloupe and Vanilla Ice Cream Pops and Sunset Popsicles.

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I love to bake and this cake was a fun one to make: My take on the Ding Dong Cake.

dingdongcake

This one was a challenge and yet rewarding. It’s a delicious bread called Fougasse.

bread

My blogging sure has been fun and rewarding. My husband always says, Deby, just leave me out of it.” I don’t. I even blog for him, on Chuck’s blog. Strange, I know; it’s really me writing about my crazy self, through him. Some people think it’s funny—really funny, if you know Chuck, because Chuck would never in a million years blog, but he sure is a good sport. And “he” can say things about me on “his” blog, which I find myself laughing at.

You’ll have to check it out to understand. Here are some of “his” most popular posts here and here.

Sometimes I hold a small class on the rancho and a few of us women here will make bread or something sweet. It’s a treat for me to get together with these young women; we have a great time.

Chuck

With Chuck

 

How did you decide to start a cooking blog?

Really I just needed something else to do with my spare time. I have always loved to cook, and now I have more time to do it. I love to bake and my neighbors have been great at giving me feedback about my baking. Chuck and I can’t eat all the desserts I make, so I give most of them away. One day, my young neighbor, Heidi Blackman, said, “Deby why don’t you blog about your baking?” So I thought about that for a year. One day, I asked Heidi if she would help me get started. She did and now it’s been almost eight months, and I can’t stop. I have never written in my life. I guess you could say I have been saving up.

withHeidi

With Heidi

 

What challenges do you encounter with your blog and your cooking?

Blogging is not an easy thing for someone in her 60s. Many of us in middle age have a hard time with new technology if we don’t have a young person sitting next to us at the computer helping us out. I just learned to copy and paste. I had, and continue to have, lots of questions.

Another challenge was learning to take good food pictures. Oh no! Something else to learn. I bought a new camera—foodie people call it a starter camera—so I can improve the quality of the photos on my blog. I also joined a food styling Facebook group, Food Styling Critique by Jennifer Janz. Most of the time, my pictures don’t make the grade—I admit I have a long way to go with my food styling. It’s funny but at this age you really don’t care as much as you used to about this kind of stuff. So I keep plugging along.

Sometimes I can’t find the right ingredients in Costa Rica. But even that is changing here at our market. The owner is so open to getting or trying to import what we expats need or want. But there is a price you will have to pay for that brown sugar or the good vanilla. Or really good chocolate, that will melt before you get it home in this heat. The humidity plays a role here as well. I have tried to make meringues and what a mess—can’t be made in this high humidity.

I’ve had challenges with my oven too. This little oven has seen a lot of life go by, here in the jungle under our Rancho. It’s electric, I had never used an electric oven before, had to get used to that, and I did. It’s outside in the elements, a little rusty now after eight years. A raccoon got the oven door open while we were on vacation and tore the rubber gasket on the inside. It still works. A pizote  (like a raccoon but bigger with a long nose) got on top of the stove and pulled back the coils and almost broke them off. Chuck cut a piece of wood for me and we put a piece of oilcloth on top so it looked nice and would stay clean. And as you can see in the pictures, my cats love laying on the top of the wood while I am not cooking. Seems everything loves this oven as much as I do.

Like so many things here in the Jungle, you get used to it or you don’t. You adapt or you don’t. Yes, it’s different here, and for me that is the draw.

 

What challenges have you faced moving to Costa Rica?

We have encountered many challenges here in Costa Rica. Banking is not easy; we usually wait 45-60 minutes just to take out money from the ATM inside our bank. Chuck has a pension, and now we both get social security. This is what we live on. Chuck does ding repairs on surfboards—he calls it his beer money.

Construction was very difficult for my husband, but we did build our own home. We hired five men to help us build our home. None of them spoke English and our Spanish was not good. Getting building materials was always a long wait at the very small hardware store. It’s a lot better now. These five men, some not yet 18, were as great and patient with Chuck as he was with them. They became our good friends. Still are. They say Chuck taught them so many things about construction. They called him teacher.

home Costa Rica

Another challenge was dealing with residency. Getting and keeping your residency is a problem sometimes. Laws change here rather quickly. And if you want to keep your residency, you have to go along with the change. We now have to buy into the healthcare system. That was tacked onto our residency. Weather you use it or not, Costa Rica is now saying if you want to renew your residency, we will need new marriage certificates. I guess Chuck and I will have to get remarried here in Costa Rica! I’m wearing white.

But with all the challenges—and really, there are many—I just love it here. So far in this life I wouldn’t change a thing. I’ll take the bad with the good. Am I an optimist? For sure. And I want to enjoy the time we have here. It’s been 8 1/2 years so far and I never tire of the beauty of this place and of all the fun people we have met here.

My day starts with, of course, a cup of Costa Rica coffee out on the rancho, in my favorite chair. Listening to the monkeys and birds. Then I begin to water my plants and clean my yard. Things grow here like they are on steroids—fast. Some days, I rake up leaves and Chuck will pick up my pile of leaves. Other days, I walk on the beach, my favorite thing to do. I have been wearing a FitBit now for a year, so I got to get the steps in, right?

monkeys

I will bake or cook something most days. But not every day, I can be lazy too. And that’s ok. Many nights, Chuck and I walk down to the beach to see the sunset. I have never seen a bad sunset—always spectacular, even if you don’t see the sun because of the clouds. Friday nights we head down to our hangout, Bar Olga’s on the beach, a local restaurant and bar, where lots of expats and locals hang out on the beach for a cold beer and the sunset. We all must love it; we meet every Friday evening and then some of us, usually six or more, will go to a local restaurant for dinner. Sometimes we go listen to the local bands that play in one or another of the restaurants here. In Nosara, there are many restaurants to choose from. Still, it’s a small town; we always see someone we know. This is one of things I love about this place. The people.

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At Olga’s

 

At least twice a year someone, friend or family, will come for a visit. We always seem to get into the tourist frame of mind. And that’s fun for us to show our family and friends around.

Now that we have a grandson, he has presented us our biggest challenge. We are definitely being pulled by the family string that binds us. We go back to California more often now; we miss him so much. We love Face Time—not sure how we would do it otherwise.

 

Were your friends and families supportive of your move?

Our families have become supportive. At first I think they (our mothers and our sons) thought we wouldn’t stay this long. But after they visit us they understand why we stay. Our sons are so proud of us. We are doing something many people do not do. I guess we are adventurers at heart. Now my husband can surf whenever he likes and I think that makes our sons so happy for their hard-working father. They love to see pictures of us doing fun things. But of course our family misses us and we miss them. This is the life we chose, for now.

 

 

What have you learned from your Costa Rica adventure?

I have learned so much! First off, I never gave a thought about spending all, or almost all, my time with Chuck, the two of us. When he retired, I didn’t think, “Wow we are going to be together all day.” Lucky for us, it has worked out just fine.

I have learned patience and to slow down. I have always stopped to smell the roses, now I breathe in a little longer and walk a little slower. I have found out I can get used to just about anything, from giant bugs to no water during the day and electricity going off and on.

I have learned that retirement is for us to savor and enjoy. I want to use the time we have left for fun. Whose life is it anyway? Come on, I’m blogging in my 60s! I would never have thought this of myself. Write? I can’t even spell. Love spell check. (Although it can’t spell sometimes too). I now know I can do most things if I just try.

 

 

What advice would you give to women in midlife, or someone thinking of retiring to Costa Rica?

Don’t always sweat the small stuff. There will be big things that come along in life that we can worry about. Let life live in you. We all deserve a life lived well. You make it happen for yourself, when you think you can’t, you really can. For me cooking and baking and living in a far away country has opened my eyes to different ways to live and cook.

The cool thing about this age is not being so worried about rejection. Huffpost/50 accepted my story about being long distance grandparents (mine is the one titled Ethan And I post sometimes in the Wall Street Journal Expat Facebook group about my life here in Costa Rica. And I also did a small story for International Magazine’s Postcards online. So you see I just put it out there; the worst that can happen is, they say no.

I love the Wall Street Journal Expat site. People from all over the world tell their stories of living abroad.  And these guys, who call themselves the Gypsynesters, just look like they are having a blast. For cooking inspiration, here are my favorite blogs: Joy of Baking and Joy the Baker.

If you are thinking of retirement in Costa Rica, I say go for it. If you are going to try and make a living here, think about that one—it’s not easy. We see more people fail than succeed. When someone starts a new thing here, too many other people try it also and then there are too many of the same kind of business, and not enough tourists to support these new businesses.

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What’s next for you?

There are times when Chuck and I think about moving back to California, I wouldn’t call this giving up, that’s for sure. I would call it making a change. I am always up for a change. But if and when we do move back, it would be so we could spend more time with our grandson and families. And then take off again, who knows where. I think Chuck and I have maybe two more next acts left in us. Stay tuned.

 

Contact Deby Hogue at debyhogue@gmail.com

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Launching a Recipe Testing Blog at 54: Karen’s Story

Unknown-20After her husband’s tragic death, Karen kept his talent agency business going, but her heart was not in it. She followed her passion and launched a blog where she tests and recommends plant-based recipes.

 

 

Tell us a little about your background…

I was lucky enough to be able to spend time growing up on the West Coast, East Coast, and finally in the Midwest. My mother was born and raised in Los Angeles. Her mother, my grandmother was a good, basic cook. During the 1950s, when convenience foods were the rage, my grandmother always made fresh, homemade meals. She never used frozen, canned, or boxed foods. Grandma always served a balanced meal with fresh fruit or salad, protein, starch, and vegetable. I do remember that she used a lot of paprika, maybe as a result of her Russian heritage, and we teased her about that!

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With my grandmother, 1990

While growing up, my mother was always cooking, taking cooking classes, and being creative in the kitchen. I remember when we lived in Connecticut, my mother went into the city (Manhattan) to take Chinese cooking classes. She bought a wok and taught us how to use chopsticks. Another time, she bought a pasta maker and we made fresh pasta at home. I also remember working with filo dough between damp towels so the dough wouldn’t dry out.

I was always in the kitchen helping out. I can recall making homemade cheese sauce by making a roux with flour and butter then adding in the grated cheese. I also made Béarnaise sauce when I was a young teen. It wasn’t until later, when I was in my 20s and went to a pro chef training class, that I learned that I was making the basic “mother” sauces that are the cornerstones of French cooking.

We moved to Glencoe, Illinois, when I was a junior in high school. I was fortunate enough to attend New Trier West, a state-of-the-art public high school. There, I began to take photography courses. I was able to learn how to develop my own film and make prints, spending much of my spare time in the darkroom there.

I went on to the University of Illinois, where I became a liberal arts major. I was able to continue my study of photography and learned how to develop and print in color and use a large format camera.

Cooking in my college apartment, 1984

Cooking in my college apartment, 1984

After college graduation, I moved to New York City and spent two years working in the special events department at Seventeen Magazine. It was great to live in such an exciting city. There were so many food opportunities; I always loved going to all the gourmet markets.

I always wanted to work in the film business and I got that opportunity and moved to Los Angeles, where my grandmother still resided. After a few years, I switched careers and went to work for one of the best-known catering companies in Los Angeles, on events spanning the range—from small parties of four at exclusive homes in Malibu to large-scale film premieres for more than 1,000 people. I also completed a professional chef-training course at Epicurean School in West Hollywood, CA (it has since closed).

In professional chef training class, 1990

In professional chef training class, 1990

Eventually I became a freelance event planner. I did this for several years until I became pregnant with twins and decided to retire! I now live in Los Angeles with my son and daughter, 13 years old, as well as my fiancé.

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With Jon and our young twins

 

When did you start to think about making a change?

Seven years ago, when I was 48, my husband Jon committed suicide. He suffered from severe anxiety and eventually, depression. In reality, he was one of the best below-the-line agents in his field. The film/TV industry was hit hard during the writer’s strike of 2008 and Jon’s clients were deeply impacted. He felt personally responsible for over 300 clients to get them work and ensure they were able to feed their families. Unfortunately, he was not able to separate himself from his work and never felt he was doing enough or helping enough people, which was so far from the truth. He was beloved and over 700 people came to his funeral service—a true measure of his success.

Jon left behind a talent agency that found jobs for technical talent who worked in film and television. The agency represented cinematographers, costume designers, set designers, and others who worked on the physical production of film and television.

I kept the business going for about five years, but it was difficult without Jon there as the clients and buyers were doing business with the agency because they wanted to interact with him. The agents and staff that remained did a great job keeping the company going, but eventually they wanted to move to a bigger company that could pay higher wages and offer more opportunities to their clients.

I was not planning on starting any type of business or career at that point. Both my kids and I had a really hard struggle emotionally dealing with Jon’s loss. I felt that my first priority was to heal myself and be there for the kids.

With the love and support of family, friends, and great therapists, we were able to overcome—and I have met a great man, now my fiancé, who has been with us for the past five years. I would tell others experiencing the death of a loved one that they should allow everyone to show up for them. Don’t send people away thinking you can do it all yourself. I also went to a grief support group at a facility in Los Angeles called Our House. They were immensely helpful in my healing process.

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Two years ago, after things with Jon’s agency began to wind down, I was introduced to the Vitamix—a high-powered blender—by my Pilates teacher and dear friend. Another Pilates friend told me about Kimberly Snyder, a fabulous nutritionist, who had written a book, The Beauty Detox Solution: Eat Your Way to Radiant Skin, Renewed Energy and the Body You’ve Always Wanted, with great recipes. From there I joined Kimberly’s Facebook group, where people were posting all kinds of recipes from vegan/plant-based websites; I was eager to try them out.

Menopause was coming on with terrible side effects, especially hot flashes and sweats that I was determined to get rid of. I decided to try to cut out animal products as they were loaded with hormones, which I thought might be contributing to my symptoms.

I’m not sure if I was right—the hot flashes did decrease and I learned which foods and conditions triggered them—but experimenting in the kitchen reminded me of how much fun it was. It opened up a new world; I’d had such a limited repertoire of vegetable dishes before, and now the possibilities were endless. I kept discovering new sites with beautiful photos and started following about a dozen of them. The recipes were piling up! I kept the ones that I liked in a binder, which grew and grew into a 3-inch size binder. Every day, I printed out a few recipes to try and still couldn’t keep up with all of the ones that looked good to me.

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Vegan chocolate prep work

 

For holiday presents two years ago, I decided to make vegan chocolates. They were so pretty and delicious. I used top-notch ingredients, all raw and organic. I decided that I would like to make and sell these and began the process of pricing out the ingredients, coming up with a name, etc. Through my research, I found that it was too expensive to purchase the ingredients at retail. The chocolates needed to be kept cold or even frozen and I needed to get my kitchen certified or rent another space to make the products. For these reasons, I scrapped that idea; it was too much effort for too little return.

I kept trying new vegan dishes and shared my creations with friends, neighbors, and Pilates workout buddies. Some asked for me to share the recipes. When I asked one of my friends if she made the dish from the recipe I shared, she said she did make it several times and even passed along the recipe to another friend. Here’s where I had my “aha” moment: What if I created a website where I posted my photos of the dishes I created, reviewed, and recommended, all from recipes I found on the Internet? I would, in essence, be putting my 3-inch binder on the web to share with others. The cost would be minimal (compared to the chocolate business), I could work from home, it would not cut into the time I needed to be a mom and be there for my kids.

 

What is your next act?

Unknown-9I launched Foolproof Kitchen, a recipe blog, in January, 2016, at age 54. I test and recommend vegan/plant-based recipes I find on the Internet and have had good results with.

I find recipes from great foodie sites—I have listed my recommended sites on my blog. I also follow quite a few on Facebook. I make the recipe as written. I taste it, have my family taste it. I bring it to friends or have friends and neighbors come over to taste too.

If it doesn’t turn out well and it is something I want to like, I might change an ingredient and make it again, and if it turns out well, I’ll note my modifications when I post. If I don’t like the recipe, even with changes, I don’t write about it. I decided early on that I did not want to put out anything negative. There is so much trash talk and cruelty that can be conveyed in words over the Internet. I want to be positive, share things that are beautiful and that I love. I want my site to be uplifting and inspiring so there is no place for negativity there!

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So far, my most popular recipes have been the mixed berry crisp and fresh beet detox smoothie. I’m still finding my way through to see what people respond to the most. I love that I can work from home. I love to be in the kitchen as much as possible. I love to take photos of beautiful things!

The other thing that I am doing is a plant-based cooking class called “Lunch Never Tasted So Good.” I have led four of these as school fundraisers and it was just terrific. My kids’ elementary school had a fundraiser project called Party Book where parents host parties and people can purchase a spot in the party of their choice. I decided to donate an interactive, plant-based cooking class that would end with the attendees eating the lunch that we made together. It was a great success.

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Table set for Lunch Never Tasted So Good cooking class fundraiser

I offered this class to a friend of mine as a fundraiser for her daughter’s school. I donate my time, the host pays for the food, and the guest fees are donated to the school. I put together a menu that is plant based or, for one friend, gluten free. I print out all the recipes and make a packet the guests can take home so they can cook these dishes for their families. One of the guests hired me to make gluten free desserts for a party she threw at her home. Most of the women had cooking experience but had never made cream sauce from cashews, or noodles from spiralized zucchini. Guests really loved the tastes and creating new dishes.

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Setting up a photo shoot

 

How hard was it to take the plunge?

Since I already had plenty of recipes tested and organized in a binder, that part was done. Next, I had to photograph everything I wanted to post. I decided that it was important for me to use my own, original photos to avoid any copyright issues. Plus I love taking the photos so that was fun for me.

The hardest part was diving into the world of cyberspace. I knew NOTHING about setting up a website, making posts, tying in social media, Instagram, etc.. Luckily, I have a niece, Alexandra Furie, who does website design so she set up the site and taught me how to post.

 

How supportive were your family and friends?

Everyone was very supportive. They really liked the dishes I was making. I didn’t divulge too much until the site was finished, but since I launched I have received great positive responses. Everyone has been gracious about sharing my info on their Facebook pages to help me get more exposure!

My kids do taste the foods, but being that they are 13 years old, they have limited palates and don’t want to try some of the vegetables I’m making. They eat whatever they want—I don’t impose my choice to cut out animal products on them—however I do insist on healthy and organic eating as much as possible. My fiancé is very discerning so if he likes something, that is a huge success!

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With Dan, my fiancé

 

What challenges did you encounter?

Before I found out that my niece was doing website design, I started on my own. I used a different service than her, found it too overwhelming, and impossible to do on my own.

The second biggest challenge occurred when I was about to launch the site. I wrote to each author/site whose recipe I was recommending, about 17 in all. I heard back from five; one of them gave me the news that recipes are copyrighted material and that I could not legally retype and post anyone else’s recipe on my site without permission. On her advice, I decided to revamp my entire format and provide links to the original recipes so I would be compliant with the law. I did consult a lawyer, and although I have heard conflicting information on Internet copyright laws, I decided to be respectful and conservative in my approach.

 

Were there times when you thought about giving up?  

When copyright issues required me to revamp each and every blog entry—there were about 30 to revise at that point—I wondered if this was something I could do.

Then, when I launched and kept checking the “likes” and “follows,” I was discouraged.

There were two things that kept me going. One was the most fabulous woman I was working with as a social media consultant, Maleesa Xiong. She kept me grounded, encouraged me, and praised my work.

The second was reminding myself why I was doing this. It wasn’t for the following, likes, or popularity. It was to share great recipes that I discovered, cooked, and loved. The follows, likes, and audience will take time to develop and the site will find its way to the proper audience over time.

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Organizing recipes I want to “foolproof”

 

What did you learn about yourself through this process?

That it is a joy to share something you love. I have to set realistic expectations and not get caught up in the competition of being popular and just focus on the journey.

I also learned that I can be goal oriented but also relish the work along the path to that goal. I enjoy learning and mastering new things.

 

 

Looking back, is there anything you’d have done differently?

I wouldn’t have waited to hire a website designer. I would have consulted with a legal advisor before creating all of my posts. But, at the same time, everything unfolds for a reason and I was able to use these opportunities to create a site that I’m proud of.

 

What advice do you have for women seeking reinvention in midlife?

Go for it! If you have a passion, just let that motivate you to share that with the world. We are not done with our lives, creating or learning new things, so don’t let your age deter you. Don’t be afraid to try or learn new things. I didn’t know so many things and now I can create blog posts, create links, and so much more that would have seemed impossible to me before.

 

What advice do you have for those interested in launching a food blog?

Make sure you have the patience, time, and resources if you are starting something new. I learned so much about technology; people around me are amazed that I do all my own photography and all my own postings onto my site.

If you are overwhelmed or intimidated, get help. There are so many people out there who can guide you through, don’t hesitate to seek others. Don’t hesitate to mention what you are doing to family and friends. I found my website designer because I told my sister-in-law what I was doing and she suggested I contact her daughter, my niece. I found my social media/tech advisor because I told my sister I needed to hire someone and she insisted I meet Maleesa. I’m sure that there are some great supportive online sites/groups and I would encourage people to seek them out.

Study what others have done. Look at each page of their site. Really notice the format, what you like, and what you would change if it were your own site.

 

What resources do you recommend for new food bloggers?

I have listed my favorite chefs on my site under the Recommended Sites. My top picks are:

Angela Liddon of Oh She Glows

Megan Gilmore of Detoxinista

Dana Shultz of Minimalist Baker

Tess Masters of The Blender Girl

Molly Patrick of Clean Food, Dirty Girl

Dreena Burton of Plant-Powered Kitchen

Los Angeles has so many wonderful restaurants. Here are a few that inspire me: Crossroads, Veggie Grill, Scratch, Shojin, Sun Cafe

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Cookbooks for inspiration

 

What’s next for you?

Next for me is growing Foolproof Kitchen, marketing it and really expanding its reach. I hope to monetize this business, but am waiting to build a following. Once I am able to realize some revenue, I plan on donating (not sure what percent yet) to food-related charities; my nephew has a rare digestive disorder—eosinophilic esophagitis—and I would like to donate to their fundraising organization, CURED Foundation.

I would also love to host more plant-based cooking classes and perhaps start a page on my blog where I have recipe packets so others can use the format and teach their own classes as fundraisers.

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Contact Karen Furie at karenfurie@foolproofkitchen.com

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Becoming a Chocolatier at 49: Robin’s Story

Robin-Autorino-headshotAfter long stints in the US Navy and Information Technology, Robin found her gift for creating beautiful, unique, and delicious individual chocolate masterpieces.

Tell us a little about your background…

We were a fairly “normal” family. My dad was a Methodist Minister and my mom worked as a nurse’s aide until she returned to college and graduated at 40 with her RN and later got her Master’s in Geriatric Nursing. As a kid, my interests were all over the place. I took ballet and wanted to be a ballerina, then an actress, and even thought about robotics. When I went off to college, my major was theatre arts.

Unfortunately, college did not seem to be the right fit for me; I was in too much of a hurry to start my life. So after freshman year, I quit and moved to New York City, sharing an apartment with 4 other would-be actors. When I finally realized that interviews would not pay for groceries and waiting tables did not cover the rent, I took a job as a receptionist. That led to a job as a sales assistant at a radio advertising company.

While working there, a client encouraged me to apply for a copywriting and commercial production job in nearby Danbury, CT. I got the job and moved back to the country. I wrote commercials and produced them myself. It was fun but when I met “the love of my (very young) life,” I quit my job and moved to Greenwich, CT where he opened a running shoe store. He got me into running and I in turn got my mom into running.

However, young love being what it is, it ended and I moved on to my first job in the food industry that wasn’t as a server. It was for a private publishing house. I applied there as a secretary but didn’t type fast enough so they offered me a job running the private kitchen. They had asked if I could cook and I said of course! I mean, it couldn’t be that hard, right?

The weekend before I started, I bought the book I have always been interested in fashion. I carried a purse at the age of 2, convinced my mother that she had to buy me a purple velvet top and skirt from Saks Fifth Avenue at the age of 9, and fashioned a denim mini-skirt using scraps of old jeans at 12. I moved to New York City at 17 to attend Barnard College and spent weekends scavenging through racks in vintage clothing stores and frequenting the trendy stores Fiorucci and Reminiscence as often as possible.

I bought the book The Professional Chef by The Culinary Institute of America. I showed up for work at 4am and made a gourmet mac and cheese recipe for the daily lunch special—I remade it 3 times before I got it right. After a year, I realized I needed to move on and away from the area.

The sunny state of Florida was next. It was not a good move. I didn’t like the direction my life was going in—no career plans, no real future plans, and a lot of my friends were into drugs and alcohol. Shortly after my 24th birthday, I signed up to join the US Navy for journalism, but an opening came up to be trained as an electronics technician sooner—I jumped at the chance.

 

When did you start to think about making a change?

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My son, now all grown up

After spending 12 years in the Navy in many locations around the world—and also getting married, having a baby, and getting divorced during this time—I found myself in Guam. My son would be headed for high school by the time my tour of duty would be finished. I knew I wasn’t going to end up going to Officer Candidate School, like my original intent, but I also knew that I didn’t want my son to have to change high schools often. I decided to get out of the Navy, take my satellite and electronics training, and attempt it on the outside world.

My son and I resettled to Northern Virginia and I got a job in Information Technology (IT). While it was not a passion of mine, for the first time in my adult life, I wasn’t worried about paying my bills on time or providing well for my son.

 

Was there something that precipitated this change of course?

I did have somewhat of an “aha” moment. I had been working for SUN Microsystems in Virginia and remarried to my husband, Chris, in 2003. Shortly after my wedding, I got sick and ended up on disability for about 6 months. After I returned to work, I realized that I wasn’t getting any younger (45 at the time) and that after all these years, I still wasn’t doing anything that I was passionate about.

My mantra through life is passion; it has to apply to who you love, what you do, and who you are, every day. After 10 years in IT, with my son now grown, I realized that I was finally in a position to apply my mantra to my work too.

 

What is your next act?

Screen shot 2015-05-24 at 12.23.41 PMI own Robin Chocolates. We make artisan chocolates, confections, and pastries. Everything is made by hand from scratch using as many all-natural and organic local ingredients as possible. My store is in Longmont, CO, and we make our creations on site, in the kitchen behind the retail area.

I don’t have a single “best” creation—all my chocolates are masterpieces to me—but our best selling chocolate flavor is Chocolate Caramel Fleur de Sel. Customers will come in and get a 12-piece or larger box with just that flavor. Our most unique flavors are our Blackberry Sage, Rosemary Caramel, and Thai Green Curry. Over the years, as I learn and experiment more, my chocolates have changed. Chocolate Caramel Fleur de Sel is very different now than the first one I made—better in a very good way. Screen shot 2015-05-24 at 12.13.30 PM

While most of the business is retail, we also do some wholesale and Internet sales. We have many regular customers—some are weekly, some monthly, and then there’s the every-other-day ones!

We differentiate ourselves with our creamier, bolder flavors. Inspiration for our flavors comes from many places. I read a lot; I ask employees to come up with ideas; I’ve even had contests for customers to name some flavors they’d like to see. I try things—some work, some definitely don’t! I’m thinking of the times I tried Blueberry, Roasted Chestnut, or Peanut Tsire (spicy herb and peanut).

I love the creative challenge, plus I get the added bonus of making people happy—it doesn’t get better than that!

The funny thing is that growing up, I was allergic to chocolate—one chocolate chip cookie and I’d itch for hours. I could, however, eat white chocolate, which definitely brought my sweet tooth to life. I don’t crave chocolate but caramel is my downfall. However I watch my weight very carefully, I don’t ever want to be a chocolatier who looks like she eats all her product! Plus, after years of doing marathons, triathlons and now kickboxing and walking, I like staying in shape.

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How did you go from IT to starting a chocolate business?

SUN Microsystems moved Chris and me to Colorado in 2005. Later that year, we attended a home cooking class at Culinary School of the Rockies in Boulder (recently bought out by Escoffier). When I heard their briefing about the professional program, I was hooked.

While I lived in foreign lands working for the US Navy, I’d often hosted dinner parties for sailors and their families. I’ve always loved caring for people, and while I couldn’t handle a field like nursing, feeding folks was a good alternative.

So, at age 47, I started a 6-month savory program at the culinary school, with the intention to either become a personal chef or work in catering. I studied classic French cooking techniques using locally produced, seasonally available ingredients.

I spent the last month of my coursework in Avignon, France, where I studied with master chefs from Michelin-starred restaurants and worked at a local patisserie. I was required to taste all my creations and discovered, thankfully, that I was no longer allergic to chocolate! As it turns out, it seems I’m only allergic to some types of chocolates, maybe having to do with their ingredients or their processing.

After culinary school, I took the time to explore my options in various pastry kitchens. I started in restaurants, working at Flagstaff House in Boulder, CO. I learned a lot from working for Chef Mark Monet. Besides speed, I learned respect and care for ingredients—don’t waste a single drop, EVER! It was interesting but didn’t allow me to be creative.

I moved on to try my hand at hotel cooking, in the pastry kitchen at the Brown Palace in Denver, CO. My focus was on afternoon teacakes and cookies; it really honed my interest in small desserts that looked great and tasted better. But I didn’t like working at the Brown: The executive pastry chef never gave credit to any of the staff. However, I learned a lot about the type of manager and boss I would eventually want to be.

At home, I was making molded chocolates, experimenting with flavors and artistry, and giving them to friends. I was also brewing the idea of starting a business, to be named A Little Something, that would cater afternoon teas at people’s homes. But one day, in January 2008, I gave some of my chocolates to a friend, who shared them with her sister, who in turn shared them with her employer, a florist shop owner in Broomfield, CO. I got a call shortly after from the florist, asking if they could order some for Valentine’s Day.

I turned in my notice at the Brown and looked for a rental kitchen. That first order was 12 four-piece boxes and included four flavors: Chocolate Caramel Fleur de Sel, Raspberry, Espresso, and Orange Spice Caramel. I kept the original name, A Little Something, for close to a year before I changed it to Robin Chocolates—the title just had to say something about what I was actually doing!

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How supportive were your family and friends?

My mom was excited about my new business, partly because she was a chocoholic and partly because she always believed that I could do whatever I put my mind to. My husband was also supportive, although he was more realistic and pointed out some of the hard things I would face. He is also an entrepreneur and knew way more than I did about all the legal paperwork I would face.

 

What challenges did you encounter?

The hardest challenge was—and still is—not having an income. When I started, I had some savings, but those dwindled to $0 rather quickly. Luckily, my husband covered day to day living expenses, so I was able to concentrate on growing my business. The first year, my company’s sales and income were tiny; the second, they more than doubled; and the third year, they doubled again. We still see an increase every year—although not quite as dramatic.

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Were there times when you thought about giving up?

Yes, and I still do from time to time. Without seeing a paycheck, my only reward right now is praise—it pushes me to improve. I’m getting closer to being able to pay myself, but my employees and ingredients come first. Without either of those, I would no longer have a company!

 

What did you learn about yourself through this process?

A lot. I have learned how to work with chocolate, mostly through books, since culinary school was all about savory. I have found that I can learn new things—so much for old dogs—and that I do have what it takes to strive to the top.

My husband once said that I give 150% to anything I pursue. Whether it’s bodybuilding (I won a couple of amateur contests in Spain while in the Navy), competing in triathlons, working in kitchens, or working with chocolate. I don’t like to be told I can’t because, deep inside, I know I can.

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What advice do you have for those interested in pursuing your path?

Be prepared—financially, emotionally, and physically.

To be prepared financially, I saved up for years to be able to pay for culinary school outright, no loans. Everything I have goes into this business.

Be prepared emotionally. Much of my part-time retail staff is high schoolers. I have to be a boss, a mom, a shrink. It’s really hard and lots of times I flounder. Lots of times I make mistakes. My best move was advancing my pastry chef (who also changed careers) from an underling to top of the pastries in my kitchen. I’ve learned to let go and let her do her thing – and her thing is not only tasty but fun and beautiful.

I still have a lot to learn about being a boss and chocolatier and sometimes it really discourages me. On those days, you slog through and hope the next day is better.

The physical part is also hard. When it’s chocolate season (mid-October through Mother’s Day), I work 80-90 or more hours a week, 7 days a week. My illness from many years ago came back to haunt me in the form of rheumatoid arthritis. Many days, I just want to stay in bed but I can’t. Once I get moving I’m good, but some days, I just wish I didn’t have to.

Study your craft. I read – a lot – about working in kitchens, on pastries and chocolates. Try to get some internship experience. Lots of times, a kitchen will let you do a stage (mini internship); basically, you work your butt off for a few days and don’t get paid. When I was in culinary school, I did a 2-week internship at Tru Restaurant in Chicago, whose Executive Pastry Chef, Gail Gand, I had long admired. I learned about quality ingredients, beauty, and taste.

And never stop learning, experimenting, searching out for others to hit ideas around with. When you try new things (I do this with new flavors), get lots of opinions—my customers are always willing to be guinea pigs for new products!

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What resources do you recommend?

A great book about kitchens is by Anthony Bourdain, Kitchen Confidential Updated Edition: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly (P.S.) It shows some of the sordid sides of kitchens and lots of the vices (drinking and drugs) that can abound in this life.

The best chocolate recipe book I ever used is by Peter Greweling, Chocolates and Confections at Home with The Culinary Institute of America The first ganache recipe I ever tried was from him. This past Christmas Eve, he visited my kitchen—his sister lives in the area and is a frequent visitor. I was like a teenager meeting a pop star. And the most awesome part is that he invited me to visit his classroom. He is the chocolates and confections chef instructor at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY. I dreamed of going there once.

I have several books on chocolate. I don’t read them cover to cover but instead look through recipes. I’ll try a recipe word for word and then redo the recipe and put my spin on it. Another favorite book is The Flavor Bible: The Essential Guide to Culinary Creativity, Based on the Wisdom of America’s Most Imaginative Chefs
by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg. It pairs flavors and can be a great source of inspiration. One of my customer’s favorite chocolates is Blackberry Sage. The idea came from that book.

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What’s next for you?

If I do have a next, I wouldn’t mind teaching. I like helping people learn, if they are passionate about it, detail oriented, and willing to put in the time. One of my employees started as a dishwasher when she was 19. She has since become my right hand person, making all the confections and helping me with chocolate. After 3 years, she is moving on and it will be hard to replace her!

Another wonderful employee started in retail and moved into assisting with chocolate. She now attends culinary school and comes back on holidays. It’s been wonderful to watch her grow up and see her passion develop.

If I won a huge lottery (although I found out you have to buy tickets!), I would still do this, only it would be to help people. For the afternoon retail kids, this is their first job. For the older ones, it’s a means to an end to help pay off school loans, pay rent and food, etc. It’s nice to be able to provide jobs for members of the local community. I also want to do volunteer work at animal shelters and homeless soup kitchens, just something to help others.

Contact Robin Autorino at robin@robinchocolates.com

Visit the store, Robin Chocolates, 600 S Airport Rd in Longmont CO. 720-204-8003. And check them out online at www.robinchocolates.com

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Becoming a Culinary Consultant in Midlife: Christina’s Story

New MHS HS Tired of being away from her family as a result of a demanding career as a television journalist, Christina fully committed to her passion for food and cooking, starting with culinary school.

Tell us about your background…

When I was a young girl growing up in West Texas, I would lay on my stomach in front of the television watching the evening news… specifically, coverage of the Vietnam War. I knew then that I wanted to live all over the world and cover important events.

I started my career as a print journalist in Miami and then moved to other locations as new opportunities arose: Washington, D.C. to work for CNN, Central America with NBC News, South Africa with NBC Radio, Europe with PBS, and finally a return to the U.S. with CBS News in Chicago. I covered some pretty amazing stories… wars, the end of apartheid, the fall of the Berlin Wall.

FCB-1989 Fall of Berlin Wall West Berlin, Germany

At the fall of the Berlin wall with my oldest son, 1989

 

When did you start to think about making a change?

My job with the CBS Evening News kept me on the road constantly and I wasn’t happy being away from my husband and five children. My desire for a change had definitely been brewing for a while. I knew I wanted to do something else, but wasn’t quite sure what it was.

I’ve always loved to cook and there was a cooking school close to my home (Kendall College), so I checked into it. I don’t do anything in life halfway, so instead of just taking a few courses, at the age of 40, I enrolled in the 2 year Associates Degree course. CBS was downsizing and I didn’t want to move to New York because of my family, so the timing was right.

 

What is your next act?

HB mhs_banner_300My next act is being a culinary consultant and having a culinary website, Mama’s High Strung.

A culinary consultant is someone who works in a variety of capacities in the industry. In my case, I work with major food corporations to bring the Hispanic market to their company. This involves recipe and product development for their Spanish-language websites and other social media outlets.

Empanadas PicMy favorite assignments, naturally, have been when I traveled to other cities to promote products. We set up booths at big Hispanic cultural events, and I do cooking demonstrations. It’s been a great way to meet people and find out first hand what they are cooking in their kitchens, what products they like, and how they use them. It’s a great way to gather information in the field…So, in a sense, I’m still a reporter!

To come up with new recipes, I usually see what is trending and make it with a Hispanic “twist.” For example, a client wanted a holiday rice pudding recipe, but wanted something different. I know dried fruit is very popular in the Hispanic market, so I wrote a recipe that called for layering tropical dried fruits between the rice pudding.

Pin Pic granolaI share recipes and information on my website, Mama’s High Strung. This website combines my love for storytelling and cooking. I am able to share what is going on in the food world, and my family, with recipes and stories. One of the most popular recipes on my website was How to Make the Best Granola Ever. I think this recipe resonated with readers because it is so easy to do and very achievable. It also speaks to our changing views about food: how we want to move away from processed food and move toward healthy and organic food if possible. I also promoted it like crazy on social media so it reached a lot of people.

As a side note… I do volunteer work for Top Box Foods, a non-profit based in Chicago that offers delicious, healthy and high-quality foods at affordable prices to people living in areas with limited access to nutritious eating options. I love this work because it gives me a chance to talk to people about what food they are buying, eating and feeding their families. What I have found most interesting is the great amount of knowledge the average consumer has about organic and locally grown food. They want it… but they can’t afford it or can’t find it.

 

Why did you choose this next act? Where does your love of cooking come from?

I grew up in a large Hispanic household in west Texas. We were very fortunate that we had someone to help my mother with cooking because she didn’t like to cook at all. She could make a mean batch of Red Chile Sauce for Enchiladas and Chile Rellenos, so I’ll give her props for those two dishes, but that was the extent of her repertoire. My father, an ex-Marine, would cook on weekends… mostly grilling and smoking (in Texas beef is king!), but he had other specialties, too.

On weekend mornings when he wasn’t playing golf, my father would make us doughnuts. He also made the best Chicken Fried Steak you’ve ever eaten… I think it was the gravy, or maybe it is just a beautiful food memory I have of him (he died in 2005). He also made amazing salsas. He’d roast different peppers and char the onions and then blend them into magical, mouth-blistering concoctions that were still full of flavor.

I also remember being on a family camping trip and he found the ingredients to make root beer. Real root beer. From roots. He cooked it on top of the stove, cooled it and then mixed it with club soda for the carbonation! Now that I think about it, I probably got my love of cooking from my father!

DITH PIC CMM Pic

No one taught me how to cook. I think I learned by observation. I remember as a child making recipes off the sides of cereal boxes, like Rice Krispies squares, and off cookie packages, like Vanilla Wafers. Who knew that, years later, I’d be writing recipes for the company that owns Nilla Wafers (Nabisco/Kraft/Mondelēz)!

Cooking really relaxes me. Even if I’m slammed and have to make a fast dinner, I love the creative energy that it takes to make something delicious and beautiful. I also love to eat… so there is that.

Living all over the world also exposed me to many cuisines. I loved trying everything, no matter how weird: grub worms with the Bushmen in Namibia, live baby eels quickly seared in oil in Panama, stuffed pig bladder in Romania. I was drawn to farmers markets in tiny villages and in huge cities… I think my soul was pulling me toward the culinary world.

Candied Pumpkin Seeds Sheet Pan Greek Chicken Pin

How hard was it to take the plunge?

It wasn’t hard. I was fortunate to have enough money to go to school. As a television journalist, I was used to working long hours and hard work, so I knew I could do it. Plus, I knew the food would (mostly) be good.

I went to class. I studied. I cooked. I scrubbed a lot of pots and made some amazing dishes… and friends. My family and friends were incredibly supportive. Everyone was eager to help me with my homework! My family loved it because at the end of everyday I was at home, sleeping in my bed.

Emeril and Chris 1

With Emeril while in cooking school (1999)

 

Tell me more about the degree you received and avenues open to you and your classmates…

I graduated with an Associate of Applied Arts in Culinary Science. I was also named Outstanding Student!

Baked Potato BarThis degree gives you a solid base in the art and science of cooking and an introduction to culinary business management practices. While you don’t need a culinary degree to work in a restaurant kitchen, this degree gives you knowledge and skills that it would take years to master as a journeyman. In my case, it enabled me to springboard into the corporate food world.

I had a small class and my core classmates have all stayed in touch and are still close, but they went in a variety of directions. Beverly Kim owns her own award-winning restaurant called Parachute in Chicago. Christian Eckmann is an executive with Lettuce Entertain You Restaurants. David Nalezny is the Corporate Chef at Evanston Golf Club. Joe Farber became a Nutritionist and Personal Trainer. Another classmate is a corporate chef for Sunset Foods and another works in pastry at the Ritz Hotel in Chicago.

 

What challenges did you encounter?

Best Cutout Cookie Recipe-G PicBeing older was definitely a challenge in culinary school because I was surrounded by twenty year olds with tons of energy and no real responsibilities (and no kids at home!).

I also had a few older, male chef instructors who made my life difficult. One even told me that I was “too old to work in a (restaurant) kitchen” and that “no one will hire an old lady.” I had the last laugh because at a graduation job fair, I had the most job offers from major companies like Kraft, Sara Lee and Nestle because I had another degree, I had other work experience and… I was older.


Were there times when you thought about giving up? 

I never, ever thought about giving up. Not once. I always finish what I start. Plus, I really love learning. I was exposing myself to a whole new world and new people and I knew that only good things would happen.

Living all over the world has showed me that the US is a great place to start over and reinvent yourself. Whenever I’ve really wanted something, I’ve gone after it and given every ounce of determination to make it happen. If it didn’t work out, at least I would have no regrets.

Going to culinary school was the same way. I knew the hours would be long and hard, but I had a burning interest so I knew I wouldn’t fail.

 

What words of advice do you have for women seeking to reinvent themselves in midlife or might be interested in culinary school?

Do it. Whatever it is that you think you want to do, find a way to do it. If money is an issue, try to find a way to make it happen through loans, grants, or a crowdsourcing campaign (I’m not kidding). Hit the Internet and find a mentor. Reach out. There are a lot of people out there who were just like you at one point and would love to help!

44 picAs far as going to culinary school: GO! But be prepared for the hardest work you’ve ever done. To enjoy and survive a program like Kendall, you must have the passion and willingness to work hard and work as a team. Besides the intense desire to become a proficient chef, all of my classmates were in love with food. They loved learning where it came from, who grew or raised it, and how they could turn it into something creatively delicious. We were also very competitive, so that helped us push each other!

As far as starting a website: Remember, it’s easy to start… but keeping the momentum going to gain an audience is difficult. Make sure you are well versed in social media and that you have a basic knowledge of code. Starting a good blog (one that you’ll make money with like I do) is expensive… and unless you hit right away, it may take you a year or two before you see any income. You have to have great images (that means a good camera), a good-looking web design (that means a web developer) and enough time to write thoughtful posts that you will then post EVERYWHERE and ALL THE TIME on social media (in order to keep making money). It can get expensive… and time consuming.

 

What resources do you recommend?

As far as culinary school, I think you should research a program that is close to you. You may also want to read this article on Grub Street for the down and dirty truth.

If you want to start a blog, these articles on The SITS Girls and BlogHer websites are invaluable.

There are bloggers that focus on MidLife issues, like Fifty Is the New Fifty and communities like Women of Midlife on Google+.

And there are LinkedIn groups as well, such as What’s Next.

Family picture

With my family

 

What’s next for you? Do you think you have another next act in your future?

Yes… I’m working on my next act as I write. Stay tuned!

 

Contact Christina Chavez at mama@mamashighstrung.com

Check out her website: Mama’s High Strung

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Becoming a Farmer in Midlife: Susie’s Story

Susie-Middleton-headshotFollowing her heart, Susie left behind a hectic life as editor of a cooking magazine to get closer to nature—by growing and harvesting her own food on Martha’s Vineyard.

 

Tell me a little about your background and when you started to think about charting a new direction in your life.

I was born and raised in Washington, D.C.—definitely a sophisticated-city-kid kind of life, with a happy dose of summers in Delaware and North Carolina. I went to an all-girls school for nine years, where I learned to write well—using my own voice—and where I also learned how much I enjoy writing.

I went on to Duke University, where I majored in English and religion, but my main focus was creative writing. After graduation, I did a summer publishing program at New York University and got my first job as an Editorial Assistant at Seventeen magazine. After a few years, I went to work for a small sailing magazine in Connecticut called Sailing World. When The New York Times bought the magazine and moved it to Newport, Rhode Island, I became its Managing Editor. It was also at that point that I began dating my future husband. When we married, I decided to take time away from magazines and attend culinary school—a crazy idea I’d had in the back of my head for a while. I’m not sure what I thought I would do, but I think I had food writing in mind—whatever that was!

I completed a 3-month culinary program at Peter Kump’s (now the Institute of Culinary Education) in New York, and then did an externship at a top restaurant in Providence, Rhode Island, Al Forno. Even though this was many years ago, Al Forno was already sourcing many of their ingredients from local farms. The restaurant also used wood-fired ovens (very high heat) to cook most of the food, so it was here that both my cooking style and an appreciation for very fresh ingredients began forming. (I also planted my first vegetable garden while working here.)

Susie-Middleton-sunflowerMy next job, cooking prepared food for a gourmet market, turned out to be a great creative opportunity for me, as the owners gave me a lot of range in what I could cook. I also began writing weekly food pieces for the Providence Journal’s Sunday magazine, which allowed me to begin learning how to properly develop recipes for publication.

I had lost touch with where my food was coming from.

Two years later, I decided to get back into full-time publishing and took a job as an Associate Editor at a new food magazine called Fine Cooking in Newtown, CT. My husband was transitioning jobs, too, so the move back to Connecticut worked for us.

I wound up working for Fine Cooking for 11 years, the last five as Chief Editor. It was a great experience: Not only did I work with wonderful people at the magazine, but I also worked with chefs and food experts all over the country. Unfortunately, the Editor job grew and grew, and I found myself working all the time and feeling a lot of stress. I knew I was burning out and unhappy.

Susie-Middleton-veggiesI began to realize something important: I had lost touch with where my food was coming from. Despite being the Editor of a cooking magazine, I didn’t even have time to get to a farmers’ market, much less keep herbs alive on my deck at home—or have a vegetable garden. I didn’t know how important this connection was for me then, though I now believe that this urge to be more involved in growing and harvesting my own food probably arose from the pleasant memories of my childhood summers in Delaware, where we ate the sweetest corn and peaches from the local farmstand, fresh flounder that my uncles caught, and juicy tomatoes and green beans that my Dad grew in the backyard. These memories stayed with me and, I think, formed my ideal vision of what fresh food should be.

I had a sense that this modern life on the treadmill was not for me.

This was also a time in our country (mid-2000s) when food and farming issues—everything from food safety to sustainable agriculture practices to the obesity crisis—were beginning to make news in a big way. The financial debacle on Wall Street was looming, too, and though I couldn’t have articulated it fully at that point, I had a sense that this modern life on the treadmill—the striving, the always-busy mentality, the ignorance of the natural world in favor of more and more materialism—was not for me. I also gradually began to equate the modern lifestyle with a feeling of being spiritually bereft.

 

What is your next act? Tell us about what you are doing…

At the age of 45, I began my next act by giving notice at my job. I used my last few months at Fine Cooking to help transition the existing staff—and to prepare myself to become a freelancer.

Over the years, I had developed many recipes for the magazine and I knew the next logical step for me was to write cookbooks. I was lucky enough to find a good agent and together we brainstormed a proposal for a cookbook about quick weeknight vegetables. The proposal went out and was bought by a publisher, Chronicle Books, before my last day at Fine Cooking. So, fortunately, I had some structure and a goal to aim for as I left a good-paying job and leapt out into the unknown.

I began to understand that I felt better in my gut when I made the changes that helped me to be more closely aligned with my essential self.

After my last day at work, I took myself to the island of Martha’s Vineyard (in the middle of the winter) for a couple of months to decompress, to walk on the trails, to be quiet. It was very scary at first, but for some reason, I felt at home on the island right away. Those two months turned into four months, and, after a brief return to Connecticut that summer, I made a decision to move to Martha’s Vineyard full-time that fall. (I had separated from my husband as well which, of course, is another story.)

I had help from many smart and generous women along the way.

This was a lot of change within a couple of years and, sometimes, I am not sure where I got the courage to plow forward and do some very difficult things. But it wasn’t just a physical journey, it was a spiritual one, too; I relied heavily on faith and prayer to move forward and I began to understand that I felt better in my gut when I made the changes that helped me to be more closely aligned with my essential self.

I also had help from many smart and generous women along the way. During the year of transitioning out of my job, while I still had some money coming from my salary, I had worked with a life coach and a therapist, who both helped me see my way out of a lot of conundrums and also helped me to begin figuring out what really makes me tick. I also took weekly walks with a kind friend who was willing to listen!

Susie-Middleton-fastfreshgreenWhile I worked on my first cookbook (which would become Fast, Fresh & Green), I began to explore the island, and especially the local farms. I often say that I “stalked” a couple of (very nice) farmers, who were kind enough to let me into their fascinating world. I also met people working hard to support farmers, to help revive the rich agricultural history of the Vineyard, to begin school gardens, to bring local food into school cafeterias, and much more. I met all kinds of animals, made friends with some pigs, and nearly cried when I went to a pig roast and recognized one of my friends on the spit! I joined a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and moved to an apartment where my landlords insisted that I have a little vegetable garden out back. I harvested mussels at low tide and wild watercress in early spring. Gradually, and then suddenly, it seemed my move to the Vineyard had reconnected me with the source of my food.

On the Vineyard, my new life also got much simpler—and I learned to live on a much lower budget.

Susie-Middleton-freshfromthefarmFast forward six years and I am now a farmer and have written three books. The third book, Fresh from the Farm, tells some of the story of how our little farm came to be, how I met my partner Roy Riley and how he and his little daughter Libby became a part of my new life. We now have 600 laying hens, an acre of vegetables, a farm stand open 365 days a year, a hoop house, a farm dog, a farm cat, and a good life. We work very hard, but it is incredibly rewarding. We transitioned the farm from a side hobby to a real business in 2013, and in doing so, I’ve stretched my limited accounting abilities by learning to write a small business plan and to do the basic finances.

Susie-Middleton-partner

Susie and Roy

All three of my books have had a heavy focus on vegetables; it turns out I not only love cooking them, but I love growing them too. I also love growing flowers—I am so enchanted with beautiful vegetables and flowers that it makes me incredibly happy to harvest them, even on the hottest day in high summer. (Collecting eggs from the chicken coops, especially in the middle of a cold, slushy winter, is not nearly as much fun!)

 

What words of advice do you have for women seeking to reinvent themselves in midlife?

My advice—to follow your gut—sounds like a cliché, but until you really slow down and pay attention to what feels right to you, you won’t understand how rewarding this can be. Doing what you love for a living is something everyone should experience. It will take sacrifice, and it isn’t easy at first, but the reward of well-being is amazing.

If you’re not sure just what that thing is, dabble in it while you’re still working in your old job. Even a day trip, a weekend retreat, or an evening class can help open your eyes—or confirm a direction you may not want to go. But commit to some small thing so that you can give it a try.

Doing what you love for a living is something everyone should experience.

Susie-Middleton-flowersI am very grateful that I had the opportunity to work with a life coach, as the exercises she did with me were particularly helpful in opening my eyes to what was missing from my life. She guided me towards some practical solutions for moving forward when I thought I was trapped.

I actually kept a notebook of quotes that I liked—and questions that I asked myself—as I went on this journey. (I also kept a journal.) And I can’t stress enough that it is really important to take an honest look at yourself before making a big change. And, from my experience, reaching out for help was a game-changer. I don’t think I would have been able to alter my lifestyle so dramatically if it hadn’t been for the helpful guidance I got from counselors and friends.

 

What words of advice do you have for those interested in pursuing your path?

Well, I don’t know how many women are wanting to become farmers in mid-life (!), but, if so, the basic advice is to start very small, not get into debt, consider a partnership, and, like all small businesses, know your market very well. (I wrote about this in a bit more detail on the Huffington Post).

I found two excellent books focused entirely on small farm businesses (Starting and Running Your Own Small Farm Business by Sarah Beth Aubrey and Making Your Small Farm Profitable by Ron Macher) and I signed up for Quick Books to learn how to keep our finances straight (still learning!).

Farming is physically difficult and the hours are very long, so if it is possible to intern or help out on a farm before you decide to pursue this as a business, it’s a smart idea.

I would also recommend finding part-time work that you enjoy and that can help you make ends meet while you are building a new small business like a farm. Leveraging a skill you’ve developed in your previous working life is your best bet: In my case, writing cookbooks was a logical step.

Unfortunately, although writing cookbooks sounds like a glamorous occupation, in reality it’s not very lucrative. But, combined with writing for magazines, it is able to form a base for my income. I also do some editorial consulting and teach occasional classes, and in the last two years we have begun to pay ourselves something from the farm. So I am patching my living together, though sometimes it is challenging.

Susie-Middleton-farmstand

What resources do you recommend?

There are a number of good farmer memoirs out there. I particularly enjoyed Gaining Ground by Forrest Pritchard; The Dirty Life, by Kristin Kimball, and The Seasons On Henry’s Farm by Terra Brockman. Also Growing a Farmer by Kurt Timmermeister and Farm City by Novella Carpenter. Storey Publishing has a number of great books about small farm subjects.

Check to see if you have an Edible magazine in your area. It’s a great resource for articles about local farming (and local food) and is a great way to get a sense of the range in types of farms and food businesses. You might even find some business owners in your area, whom you could contact directly. And, of course, you can read about what happens on one small farm on my website, www.sixburnersue.com!

I loved my life coach, Mary Hulbert. Her website is True Directions. I can laugh at myself now, but I read a lot of self-help books. The one that got me thinking the most was Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life, by James Hollis.

And, speaking of laughing, it’s always a good idea to read anything by Anne Lamott. You can also read her essays as she posts them on her Facebook page. 

I am so grateful to be living in the present, enjoying what I’m doing, without having to always be looking for something else, something better, like I used to do.

What’s next for you? Do you think you have another Next Act in your future?

For right now, I think growing the farm business is a 3-5 year focus that will take a lot of energy. Eventually, I would like to publish a memoir and possibly write other non-food related books or essay collections, so I think my next acts will be more like segues, rather than huge changes. I am so grateful to be living in the present, enjoying what I’m doing, without having to always be looking for something else, something better, like I used to do. So I would say, while I’m all for continual growth and unfettered creative pursuits, I am not looking to make any major changes again any time soon!

Susie-Middleton-freshgreentable 

Contact Susie through her website: www.sixburnersue.com

Also check out Susie’s cookbooks:

Fast, Fresh & Green

Fresh From the Farm

The Fresh and Green Table

 

 

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